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Love at first bike

With its knobby tyres, the mountain bike can't go fast but it does go beyond the grid.

With its knobby tyres, the mountain bike can't go fast but it does go beyond the grid.

A serious cyclist offers advice for investing in your first two-wheeler

If watching the Tour de France or the Olympics has inspired you to take up cycling, you'll probably already be scratching your head trying to decide which bicycle to buy. Mountain bike, road bike, Hybrid, fixed-gear, touring bicycle, single-speed, folding bike, used bike, perhaps even a bike that's fallen off the back of a lorry? Like with a first marriage, it's easy to become overwhelmed.

"Most people want a bicycle because they feel they need to exercise but have no idea how they're going to use the bike," says 40-something bike buff Somkhuan Henghasun, who's been through many wrong (and a few right) bikes over the last 10 years. "Their first bike is often a mountain bike. It's affordable, and everyone rides it."

But the default choice is not always the right choice.

After a few months, once the thrill of owning a shiny new mountain bike has faded, the proud frame can usually be found rusting under a mango tree.

So before you invest more than Bt10,000, check out the kinds of bike available on the market and what they can do for you.

Walk into any bicycle shop and you will find five kinds of bikes - road bike, mountain bike, hybrid bike and cruiser.

The road bike is designed for going faster than 60 kilometres per hour on a paved road and features skinny tyres and a lightweight frame. Designed for Lance Armstrong types, the riding position will have you bent over the handlebars as you speed along local roads. Only choose the road bike if travelling longer distances at higher speeds is important for you. Bike shops will usually suggest the road bike to runners switching to cycling because of bad knees.

"They go fast and they go far," Somkhuan notes. "I see many road bikes on a Sunday, sweeping down local roads near Hua Mark City Line station."

Getting rid of the drop-handlebars, which keep you bent over while riding, is no problem: simply replace them with upright handlebars.

The road bike, as its name suggests, needs a paved road. If you want to go beyond the grid and hit the dirt paths, then turn your attention to a mountain bike. With wide tires, usually with knobby treads, and a heavy frame, the mountain bike can't go fast but it is furious. When I bought my Gary Fisher, I had fun jumping the curbs and bouncing it. I sometimes study Google Maps and explore the rice paddies and canal networks beyond the concrete jungle. When I have time, I take my bike to top of the mountain in Prachin Buri, negotiate the single track then sweep down the hill for a high dose of adrenaline - though fortunately not a new set of front teeth.

But if I try to catch up with a road bike, I'm left trailing in the dust.

Choosing between a road bike and mountain bike is down to riding habit: fast or furious. If that's too extreme, you could opt for a hybrid bike that offers a compromise between road and mountain bikes. With a skinnier frame and smooth tires, the hybrid bike can go faster than mountain bikes while featuring the upright seat and handlebar position that many people favour. You can spin it on the paved road on Sunday morning, or take it out for a small adventure through the labyrinths of Chinatown. Offering speed, durability and comfort, this is a good choice for most city rides,

Once you've figured out the best style of bike for you, make double sure that you're making the right choice by trying it out.

Probike, which is near Lumpini Park, has test bikes for its customers. Make sure you do more than a lap around the parking lot. About 20 minutes should give you an idea if you are comfortable with the way you sit on a particular type of bike, and if the pace is right for you, or if it will be something that ultimately disappoints. Don't be afraid to ask questions, no matter how stupid they may sound. These people know their trade and can give very good advice.

Like everything else you own, you get what you pay for. You might find a mountain bike at a supermarket for Bt3,000, but that cheapie is heavy and won't last longer than three months. You will end up spending more money than if you'd bought a better bike. The reasonable price is about Bt20,000 for decent mountain and hybrid bikes and Bt25,000 for a road bike.

The alternative way to get a decent bike without breaking your piggy bank is to opt for a used one.

Websites like www.thaiMTB.com are the best places to look for a second-hand bike, as many bike buffs and local bike shops keep post their bikes on the marketplace board. The website is also a social network in itself, so you'll find plenty of information about your new-found hobby.

After you've thought about the type of riding you'll be doing and taken a several different types out for test rides, go get the very best bike you can afford. It will be the best investment you've ever made.

On two wheels

_ Probike is located at 237/2 Sarasin Road Pathumwan. It's open Monday to Friday from 10 to 7, on Saturdays from 8.30 and on Sunday until 5. Call (02) 253 3384 or visit www.Probike.co.th.




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